Rethinking Christmas Gift-Giving
December 1, 2002 - A lawsuit in the early 1980s attempted to stop the city of Pawtucket, R.I., from including a Nativity scene in its annual Christmas display. The case, titled Lynch v. Donnelly, ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a ruling in March of 1984.
by Larry Burkett
Thankfully, the city won the right to continue displaying the creche, but in its ruling, the high court repeatedly associated Christmas with "tradition" in America.
Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote, "The display celebrates a public holiday, and no one contends that declaration of that holiday is understood to be an endorsement of religion. The holiday itself has very strong secular components and traditions. ... The creche is a traditional symbol of the holiday that is very commonly displayed along with purely secular symbols, as it was in Pawtucket."
What an indictment of American Christianity that our Lord's birth and the symbols surrounding that birth are associated with tradition. But sadly, Christmas has largely become a commercial tradition. That commercialism is centered around gift-giving, which isn't necessarily wrong until people indulge. For example, some people will actually go into debt to buy expensive gifts they can't afford and their families don't need.
Cardweb.com says American consumers charged more than $120 billion to their credit cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas of last year, waiting until the last minute to buy gifts. And when we're stressed or pressed for time, we have a tendency to overspend.
A study by the International Mass Retail Association says the typical household spent $1,130 for holiday gifts in 2001, much higher than the $863 they expected to spend when they were polled in October, before the Christmas rush began.
Sadly, it has become difficult for many people to meet the time and monetary demands of Christmas, which should be a season of peace and reflection on the most important birth in history. It also should be a season of close fellowship and sharing in the needs of others. This sharing should be an extension of our practices during the previous 364 days, not something we do once a year.
The Tragedy of Commercialism
Instead of a caring-sharing time, Christmas has become a season of depression for those who are lonely or cannot afford the latest indulgences.
In a caring-sharing environment, such people would be ministered to and have no cause for shame. But in the hustle and bustle of Christmas, the lonely are easily forgotten. And in the rush to buy the latest indulgences, those who can't or won't participate are made to feel guilty.
Such people may avoid congregating with other Christians because they don't have impressive gifts for the show-and-tell times that occur during and after Christmas.
The Need for Balance
The indulgence and lavishness at Christmas can't be countered by going to the opposite extreme of eliminating all gift-giving and observing Christmas as a purely religious holiday. To attempt to do this will, in most cases, alienate your children and family.
What we need to do is swing back toward the middle and eliminate the need to compete with others. Then we'll have the freedom to develop God's plans for our families without pressure from the commercial world.
There's nothing wrong with giving gifts at Christmas. We simply must be careful not to indulge.
After all, it's the misuse of gift-giving that entangles us, thereby diverting our attention from Christ to material things. And as the apostle Paul noted in 2 Timothy 2:4, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier" (KJV).